Youth Encounter was first established as a teen camp under the events company Encounter FMX Ltd by Mary and Joel Wanhill in 2009. With the camps gaining more traction, the couple saw an opportunity to expand, and they registered as a charitable trust in 2012, which we now know as Youth Encounter Ministries Trust. Mary worked full-time, in a voluntary capacity, nourishing their vision to make an impact on the young people in Aotearoa New Zealand. To this day, Youth Encounter continues to expand in its capacity, with Mary and Joel still fully committed to leading the organisation forward in its mission.
Once known as ‘Scary Mary’ for her internationally renowned world record-breaking achievements in freestyle motocross, Mary has used Youth Encounter as a platform to create activity-based programmes that give young people a sense of belonging. These activities bring young people together to have fun and explore the joys of life. As the CEO of Youth Encounter, Mary exercises her counselling qualifications to understand and support young people, deliver high-quality programmes, and assist her staff in facilitating these programmes. With the organisation expanding, Mary has taken the opportunity to step into overseeing the operations at Youth Encounter, providing training for staff, and creating foundations for the organisation that will ensure a powerful legacy is left for the next generation.
“Youth Encounter exists because we believe every person will encounter their God-given potential to live life wide open when they know they belong and believe in their true value.” - Mary
With over 300 people engaging annually in the several programmes offered at Youth Encounter, Mary and Joel’s dream of creating a safe space for young people to ‘live life wide open’ has finally become a reality. This organisation, whilst seeing the importance of engaging with ‘at-risk’ youth, also seeks to provide a place of belonging for those from more affluent homes who are struggling to ‘fit in’.
Being a registered charity, Youth Encounter is fully funded by grants, generous sponsors, donations, fundraising events, and our own social enterprise, which operates specifically to raise funds. Currently, we have 15 employees and over 40 volunteers who contribute to the optimal functioning of our operations and programmes. Our staff carry the same passion for seeing young people have fun, explore things outside of their comfort zone, find their identity, and open up to one another in a safe environment. Many of our staff have been impacted by Youth Encounter’s programmes, have grown up in this vibrant community throughout their teenage years, and now strive to give back to the community and empower young people to ‘life live wide open’.
"We create an environment that accepts young people where they are at with no agenda to change them, but rather unleash and release the incredible potential that they have been created with" - Mary